A guest post by filmmaker Kat Hunt.
Back in 2012, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a film about two friends “getting revenge” on men and documenting the process.
This was apparently a very controversial thing to do. Some people loved the idea, while many people thought I was insane, immature, or just stupid. They seemed to assume the worst, that I would be pranking people and filming it. Rare feedback considered that my project was to examine our emotional responses to a taboo yet universally-felt desire: revenge.
It surprised me, over and over again, how few people trusted me to make a smart piece of art about this timeless and topical human experience.
I met two other female filmmakers who were doing a similar thing—making a documentary about a neighborhood man they had befriended who they later found out was accused of rape. They told me that people close to them had discouraged them from doing the project, suggesting it might be too “big” a topic to work on, that it might not be the type of film they should make.
I made my film anyway. And as a first-time director I struggled with internalizing the criticism, and wondered often if I wasn’t up to it. In the end, years of work led to a complex and funny film that I am very proud of.
The next surprise came when I began submitting the film to festivals. I noticed that programmers of woman-centered film festivals were responding negatively to my film. I was told that my main character “wasn’t positive,” or that What’s Revenge didn’t pass the Bechdel Test (which was first depicted in a comic strip as satire of how pathetic representation in mainstream films was).
Another response was that the actions of men we were “avenging” in the film weren’t “bad enough.” That we should be talking about rape, not the Dehumanization Lite that we deal with daily. The implication was that only certain experiences were worthy of anger and revenge, of drawing cinematic attention to.
Of course, we all know that’s not true. It’s 2018, and we’ve seen the birth of the #MeToo Movement in which people all over the world have shared their first-hand and wide-ranging experiences of abuse by men in power.
Many critical reactions to #MeToo have been similar to the reactions to my film—that people sharing #MeToo stories were oblivious to the complexities and the grey area of implication, that many of the stories shared weren’t that bad, or that the whole business of sharing stories was really about drawing attention to one’s self… essentially, that it was irresponsible for women to be talking about this stuff publicly.
Again, I saw a lack of trust in women to examine our lives, to make our own conclusions about what constitutes misconduct and abuse, and take action as we feel necessary. It was the same mistrust that I experienced when I began examining the desire for revenge in my film.
My hope is that the #MeToo movement will build a world in which we trust each other to share our truths, for women have kept secrets for far too long. When we share information and perspective with each other, we empower each other. When we listen to each other with compassion, we create new networks of trust that will grow into cultural mores, and eventually institutions.
When we react with outrage, we externalize our power. I believe this movement can do the opposite: that it can feed our integration, with ourselves and with everyone around us, building trust. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t get mad, or that we should shame anger, but that we can use our anger as a map. The map shows us what must change, and who we trust to make those changes. As women, let’s work to make a world where all women are able to speak their truth in safety.
It’s been a thrill to stream my film free online, finding new audiences through NoBudge and #DirectedbyWomen, and hearing from people who resonated with its truths. My hope is that its “controversial” content inspires us to trust each other—and ourselves—enough to keep sharing.
Kat Hunt is a filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist living in New York. CANDIED VIOLETS, a comedic doc about a roadside stand selling flowers to end the patriarchy, is forthcoming.